Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Friday, October 17, 2008

A response to Chris Lewis interview

Earlier today I replied with a comment on the Spectrum blog of Jared Wright's review of The Character of God Controversy. This book is supposed to deal with some type of movement in Adventism which purports that God does not kill. My comment was as follows:

I have read discussions where some people have submitted the idea that God never kills but I don't know the names of any particular Adventist pastors or leaders or scholars who hold to that view. Maybe it is my own lack of knowledge but I would be interested in knowing who this book is really addressing.

The Character of God is a big issue in A. Graham Maxwell's theology but I have never heard him or read that he says God never kills. Does this book express who believes the God never kills concept? As you only have to produce one instance to prove the position false I just don't think there is sufficient acceptance of this view in Adventism. I think it is a method used to try and discount the more Moral Influence views that are held by many Adventists. Such as Maxwell's "larger view". But those are not based upon God never kills. They are based upon the idea that God did not kill His Son (God does not kill God) so that the death paid the penalty for humans sins.

There are many examples where in life it is not unjust to kill, to assume that such is not the case for God is not too credible in my opinion.

Jared answered that he was about to put up an interview with one of the authors of the book. True to his word he posted the article How the Book was Inspired. It appears my assessment was accurate. The book is actually an attempt at shoring up the Penal Atonement theory under the guise that those not holding Penal Atonement views hold the idea the God never kills. I will interline in red some comments, the question is in bold black and Dr. Chris Lewis statement is in green:

Question: It is evident from reading that both you and Steve Wohlberg care about how God is depicted. What misperceptions about God do you hope the book will help in clearing up?

Answer: It appears to me that many people do not understand how a loving God could still be loving and yet punish or destroy. How can a life-giving God take life?

Unfortunately, these issues are too often handled by “reasoning” from our sometimes inaccurate understanding of things like sin and wrath - using analogies to understand these issues instead of simply taking God at His Word and then trying to study more deeply to understand the “why” behind what He says. If an author or speaker uses an analogy that “makes sense” to us, should we base our definition or understanding of sin or wrath on that analogy instead of basing it on how God defines these ideas in His Word?

Another of these reasoning is wrong arguments; you can tell this will not go well. What is interesting is that reasoning is the only thing we really have words on a page do nothing for us, they must be interpreted and applied and that can’t be done without reasoning. Secondly analogies are the primary method of communicating that the Bible writers used. I could exhaust you by giving examples of Bible analogies so I won’t do that but it is something that is too obvious to be contradicted intelligently. Thirdly the Bible is not God’s Word. At best it contains some of God’s words. When people say they simply take God at His word what they really mean is that they interpret something from the Bible in a fundamentalist way. To study more deeply they mean to accept the fundamentalist view and try to explain the fundamentalist view; that is the why. In other words they start with a particular presupposition and all study is designed to affirm that presupposition.

One truth that is taught throughout the Bible but that is denied in the theory in question is the truth of the atonement of Christ. It gets at the reason of why Jesus came to earth and died.

Here he introduces the real reason for this book.

My children have a series of musical CDs with Scripture set to music, and my daughter’s favorite is Isaiah 53. She has the chapter memorized. Whenever she has the CD playing or when I hear her singing the chapter while she plays, I am struck by how simple and plain God is in His Word on the subject of the atonement.

Unfortunately Isaiah 53 is at best a foreshadowing of some Atonement ideas. It was not written about the atonement nor is most of it used in the New Testament to speak about the atonement. Surely you would expect the New Testament the part of the Bible given the name “New Testament” because it speaks of the atonement and a new and better way to use those Old Testament sections from Isaiah 53…but they do not.

Central to this topic is the concept that God’s law simply cannot be set aside. A part of that law is the decree “The wages of sin is death.” Paul was quoting God when he wrote Romans 6:23. Notice this clear statement from Review & Herald, May 7, 1901:

The fiat has gone forth, "The wages of sin is death." The sinner must feel his guiltiness, else he will never repent. He has broken the law, and in so doing has placed himself under its condemnation. The law has no power to pardon the transgressor, but it points him to Christ Jesus, who says to him, I will take your sin and bear it myself, if you will accept me as your substitute and surety. Return to your allegiance, and I will impute to you my righteousness. You will be made complete in me.

Here he takes Ellen White as the authority and interpreter of the Bible and specifically the sentence fragment so typically used. “The wages of sin is death”, why people use only the first phrase and ignore the second I cannot understand but the second shows that “the gift of God is eternal life” So it is not saying that you sin therefore you die or someone has to die for you. It is saying that sin has results and they are death but God gives a gift and that gift is eternal life. The idea that a law cannot be put aside is also a problem. Who creates a law that has more power then the one who created the law? The Bible stories are filled with miracles which are clearly breaking the laws of the natural world. I suppose that is why these people so often take only the fragment of Romans 6:23, without doing that they have nothing to make God subservient to His own laws. So they take that part of the verse and remove it from the context and say that we are all condemned to death by God’s law. However in context you are only condemned to death if you reject the gift of life that God offers for then you are only left with the consequences of sin which is death.

It is so very simple. None of God’s law can be set aside if the universe is to be kept safe. It is the way it has to be, whether we understand why or not.

It is so simple that you don’t even need to understand it. It matters not that it makes no sense. How can anyone say that none of God’s laws can be set aside when we have texts such as:

(2 Cor 5:19 NIV) that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.

All those stories about forgiveness in both the old and the New Testament, forgiveness is not about punishment first, take a look at the stories, clearly forgiveness is based upon the idea that one does not hold the wrong done by someone against them.

Now read Isaiah 53 through again from start to finish. Don’t skip any verses. Why did it please the Lord to bruise Him? Because He knew that by God in human flesh dying, He could justly forgive sinners.

Well, no you don’t really find that God could forgive sinners because God bruised Christ. That would not be forgiveness by the Biblical definition nor is that what Isaiah 53 reveals.

“(Isa 53:10 NIV) Yet it was the Lord's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.”

Nowhere do you find that text repeated in the New Testament. In fact 5 times in the New Testament it says that men caused Christ death. Not once does it say that God caused His death. Not once does it say that God bruised Christ, crushed Christ or even that Christ paid a penalty. When the New Testament does quote Isaiah it refers to His suffering but not the suffering that was God caused:

(1 Pet 2:24 NIV) He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.

(1 Pet 2:25 NIV) For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

Does anyone really believe that the flogging of Christ heals us because God caused the whip to fall? No we are healed by seeing the character of God revealed in the life of Christ and we are moved to return to God. This is not written as penal atonement theory. That has to be created by taking Old Testament foreshadowing and carrying it to a conclusion that the New Testament writers did not use. Entirely understandable in Old Testament times when everything was caused by God, both good and evil but the Bible writers did progress in understanding and in their knowledge of God. So why go back to the more primitive concept of God?

Why was Jesus “satisfied?” Because by faith He saw the millions who would be in heaven because He was put to death for their sins. God showed that the law cannot be set aside in order to pardon sinners. The penalty must be carried out. That is justice. No one, including Satan, the accuser of the brethren, can accuse God of not being just, because God took the full justice of the law upon Himself in the form of the Son.

This is kind of silly as there is literally no place which holds to substitution of the innocent for the guilty as an appropriate form of justice. Even the Old Testament forbids punishing the innocent. But this fits the fundamentalist presupposition. The idea that God punished Himself to pay the penalty that He required instead of simply forgiving makes God less then reasonable. But then again reasoning is looked at poorly as the author stated in the second paragraph of his answer. In essence he is saying God can’t forgive unless He punishes and since He can’t punish the guilty or they would all be killed He must punish Himself. Is there any wonder that Christianity is the butt of so many jokes about unthinking people?

But God is also merciful. Where the mercy comes in is where God says, in essence, “For the safety of the universe, I cannot set aside My law, but what I will do is take the penalty Myself so that I can extend pardon to the guilty.” The plan formed by the Godhead was for the Son to die the death required by the law, for us. If we will accept that death in our place, by faith, it is ours. It is as though we had received that death sentence, yet lived to tell about it.

Hmmm wouldn’t it be easier for God to forgive as He instructs us to forgive? Or is mercy not abundant in forgiveness?

The bottom line is that only One equal with the law, i.e., the Lawgiver, could pay the penalty and satisfy the justice of the law for us. Some say this shows God to be barbaric. I believe that it instead reveals a God that is just, and [yet] and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus (Romans 3:26).

Oh my, the Law is equal to the Lawgiver. How could that possible be that a written set of ideas is equal to the creator of the ideas. Never. Now is God barbaric to punish Himself and rewrite His law about punishing the innocent? I would not call that barbaric I would call it irrational. Using the authors terms instead of saying God is barbaric I would say that the author has painted God as a berserker.

The reason we don’t understand that this truth shows us how loving God is, rather than describing a barbaric God, is that we also misunderstand the law. To the degree that we misperceive how bad sin is, we also misperceive how good the law is. Sin and the law are opposites, for sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4).

I have to agree with him a little here. He does not have a clue when it comes to understanding the law. I doubt he understands sin either.

I am glad Jared was able to read the book he reviewed I doubt I could stomach the nonsense that they have produced. And yet it will be published by Adventist publishing houses and sold at the Adventist bookstores to the gullible because frankly it follows the fundamentalist line of thinking and that has once again found prominence in the Adventist church, sadly.


al said...

God says it so I believe it, that is, I believe it so God must have meant it the way I believe. Trouble is this could be said for every other religion so it still doesn’t clear up who has the truth!

Ron Corson said...

Herb wanted me to post his comment because for some reason he was not able to post here.

Thanks for your reply and your incisive comments regarding the most important subject for any of us: what we mean by atonement. I am troubled by my friends who seem to be shackled by Calvinist presuppositions. And by a strange resistance to see the Big Picture that EGW helps us with. She has a way of laying out the Big Picture, especially in what God wants to accomplish in His Plan of Salvation. I have read shelves of basic theological works and rejoice further that we have the Big Picture that others only touched with their finger nails. In other words, EGW is the Adventist Advantage, if we want to receive it with open eyes and hearts. Keep up your thinking. Cheers, Herb